On fond farewells and new arrivals

While coming to Korea is never seen as a permanent thing, it still hurts to say goodbye to new friends. Whether life presents a better opportunity in their home country or the Korean experience turns sour, the process of making friends and connections never ends.

It’s not a unique experience, of course – having friends graduate college and moving away to seek their adult life is comparable. I suppose what happens in Korea, just like in college, the scale of relationships speeds up to high gear. Talk to a stranger at the bar, and in an hour you’ve shared a few drinks and grown close to someone. Meet them at an event and share a meal afterward, and you’ve already gotten past the small talk that would otherwise dominate the conversation.

In the next couple of months, a handful of good friends and overall cool people are leaving Korea, probably forever.

To the married couple in the military, may your next posting offer you all the opportunities and none of the drama.

To the married couple heading back to California, may your next business take off even higher and greater than your first one did.

To the engaged couple I last saw drunkenly walking in Hongdae, may your lives together grow richer and sweeter with time.

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To the new arrivals, a few tips for making the most of your friendships in Korea:

  • Be approachable. This sounds obvious enough, right? Head down, headphones on, and obliviously moving through the subway is about as far from approachable as it gets. Part of being approachable is being open to changing your plans to enable a conversation to continue past the polite stages.
  • Get out – and not just to the bars and clubs. The bigger bookstores invariably have an English-language selection, and there are dozens of expat-run or expat-oriented groups around Korea.
  • Start creating. Whatever your field of expertise, create something. It can be a book, a song, a painting, a choreographed dance, a band, or a new app – you make the call. You did major in something in college / university, right?
  • Along those lines, start collaborating. Reach out to friends of friends on Facebook and put one and one together. Whether a business opportunity or a friend ends up as the result, you’ll be better off either way.
  • Carry name cards, whether you have a business idea or not. It looks great, and is a tangible reminder of who you met. There are plenty of resources to make them great – my personal favorite is a free e-book from Stephen Bammel at Korea Business Central (link directly goes to PDF).
  • Never stop exploring. South Korea may be a geographically small country, but there’s enough to see to keep even the most committed traveler busy for years.